Fantasy master Yolen here offers a tale of a half-foal, half-boy.
Not quite a year after the appearance of a mysterious white light, an old pony at a boarding stable gives birth to a baby centaur. With only 13-year-old Arianne, her mother, a friendly veterinarian, the stable manager and Arianne’s disabled, 6-year-old brother, Robbie, on site, they hatch a plan to keep the baby out of public view. Soon, however, the whole world knows, drawing even Arianne’s estranged rock-star father, who comes to cash in. Unfortunately, this intriguing premise doesn’t lead to a successful novel. The characters all feel like stereotypes, especially the father and chirpy Robbie, and the humans seem to accept an actual live centaur extraordinarily readily. One rule of adding fantasy elements to a story set in an otherwise real world is that the real-world details must ring true, and that is ultimately the greatest flaw here: Yolen doesn’t get the horse details right. Whether it’s incorrect vocabulary or flubbing the usual routine of a boarding stable, Yolen’s real horses are never real enough for her fantasy centaur to come to life. The story is set in 1965, apparently as an excuse for Robbie’s thalidomide-induced birth defects, but the setting is mostly just shown through mentions of contemporary television shows; the veterinarian’s service in Vietnam seems impossible, given the timeline.
This book stumbles right out of the gate. (Fantasy. 8-12)